Friday, June 21, 2013

Favorite Friend Friday: Michelle Jewell of Finkelstein's Toys

Michelle's plushies were some of the first products that we started carrying in our shop, from her line called Finkelstein's Center. We absolutely fell in love with her acorns and sticks (if you were a customer at our physical space--we're sure you saw and loved them!) and contacted her to carry her designs. Some of our favorite little plushy friends have traveled to us from Finkelstein's--and we are so delighted to have a brand new shipment in. Michelle is an amazing designer and a dear friend of Assemble. We're happy to have her as one of our Favorite Friends:

finkelstein's design center plushy friends and toys for assemble shop

Tell us a little bit about Finkelstein's Toys! How did you get started, and what made you want to make plushy friends?
I started making them three years ago after leaving my job to work for myself. I didn't just start making plush friends right away, I made lots of handmade items and presented them to my friends for a test run. The dolls and plush creatures were the most popular and also what I enjoyed making the most. I continued to make them, experimenting with different materials sewing styles and Finkelstein's grew from there!

finkelstein's design center plushy friends and toys for assemble shop

Where did you get the name, Finkelstein's Toys?
Most people think that Finkelstein is a family name but it's actually one of my dog Bernie's middle names, Bernard Pickles Finkelstein. I have no idea where it came from originally or why he has so many names but it stuck and became the name of my business.

Do you work only on Finkelsteins or do you have another job?
I operate Finkelstein's full time and I currently have three ladies who help sew while I work on custom orders and developing new characters.

finkelstein's design center plushy friends and toys for assemble shop

What is your favorite plushy--and what is your most popular?
My favorite to make is the dolls, I am able to get very detailed and it's fun to switch gears from the creatures for a while. My most popular plushy is probably the elephant. Elephants are seen as sweet and gentle animals, everyone read a book about a nice elephant when they were little so I think it makes them appealing. As far as plush buddies go, the elephants are also versatile between boys and girls so it's the easiest to give as a gift.

finkelstein's design center plushy friends and toys for assemble shop

How do you get ideas for new toys?
I get ideas in lots of different ways--I have a book of half ideas that I refer to when I feel stuck to see if one jumps out and turns into a creature. Sometimes my customers push my creativity through commissioned work, they'll request something I've never made before. I don't necessarily sketch every new character but I do sketch for fun and different creatures come from that process too. When I was little I would ask my mom to draw a bunch of lines or squiggles on a sheet of paper, my challenge would be to turn her squiggles into a picture. It was normally an imagined creature that was a hybrid with a human or machine, I'm basically still playing the same game. I save scraps of fleece and see what I can turn them into using only that much material, it's a good exercise in creativity and I don't waste material.

Where do you source your materials?
The consistent material that their bodies are made of is fleece, sourced from the fabric store. It's important for me to have a consistent base material so customers and stores who carry my characters know what they are getting. To make each piece unique we use up-cycled material either donated or purchased to construct their add-ons like their shirts, socks, bloomers and so on. I will occasional pick up small amounts of printed material from the fabric store if I really love it but I try to stay away from doing that too much.

finkelstein's design center plushy friends and toys for assemble shop

If you could sell your toys at one shop, what would that shop be?
I don't have a specific store that I strive to sell with but I do tend to be attracted to smaller boutiques and stores. I enjoy building relationships with them and seeing how dedicated they are to their shops and to the lines that they carry.

finkelstein's design center plushy friends and toys for assemble shop

Do you have any business or design role models?
I draw a lot of inspiration from people I know personally who are successful with their business: Ink Meets Paper, Rewined Candles, Proud Mary. Sometimes when I see businesses that are doing with they do really well I just assume that they have a lot of hands on deck helping to make it happen. When I look at my friends' businesses, I know they are wearing all the hats like me and I know how dedicated they are to making their businesses grow. They are the best role models because I can see how hard they work and how they continue to make their business better and its inspirational and motivating.

If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Tiramisu. I love it so much.

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
London, England. An unexpected fact about me is that I am a huge EPL fan. I get up around 7am on Saturday mornings to start gearing up for the games during the regular season. I even plan my schedule around it when it falls on a weekday, it's crazy. I read sports blogs, I watch transfer windows, I yell at the TV, I wear the appropriate gear for luck, I watch training videos on my lunch break, the works! In addition to all the other things London has to offer, it would be very convenient for my obsession.

And what is your favorite time-wasting activity?
Well excluding the above mentioned which is probably where the majority of my free time goes, I waste a notable amount of time on DIY blogs and design sites. I love giving myself building projects and finding ways to change the space I'm in, I wish I had more time for it.

Check out our Finkelstein's Center Toys in our web store, here.

Images by Rebekah Collinsworth Photography and Sea Star Arts
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